Copyright: Yes, I do not own the Xena concept and certain characters but the plot is all mine.
Violence: There is violence.
Subtext: I really dislike this disclaimer.
Feedback: I love it! email@example.com
Write a Review: http://www.redhope.net/xena/review/stranger-form.html
Started: September 23, 2006
Other Fanfictions Story Number: 66
Stranger in a Strange Time
by Red Hope
Chapter 24 – Et Tu?
Alti swept down the torch lit hallway after two sentries reported to her that the Conqueror requested her audience in the courtroom. She approached the courtroom and expected there to be some masses there but it was quiet. Her black eyes centered off to the right where the Conqueror was seated at her throne.
"Come in, Alti," greeted the ruler's cold voice. She waved the shaman into her court while she slumped in her throne. Her legs were stretched out and sprawled open while her arms now rested on the chair arms, her hands curled over the ends.
The shaman glided into the empty courtroom and stood before the ruler, who was flanked by two guards. She slipped her hands into her robe and respectively bowed. When she straightened up she realized that to the right of the throne stood the golden scepter that shined the Cronos Stone. "Welcome home, my liege."
The Conqueror's lips curled into a vicious smile. "The mice will play when the tiger is away," she remarked. She tilted her head and her eyes slotted. "I've already killed two of the mice… now you're all that remains, Alti."
The shaman's full lips eased into a ruthless smile. "My liege, I do not know what you speak of."
The Conqueror laughed with her head dropping back. She shook her head as her laughs echoed away in the courtroom. "The games are over, Alti." She sat up in her throne then gave a piercing whistle.
Alti stiffened when doors in each of the columns of the courtroom that usually remained locked suddenly opened. Two sentries each stepped out of the doors, closed them, and unsheathed their swords and made sure to lock the doors back up.
The Conqueror grew smugger when the main doors that led outside threw open and six soldiers armed with spears and swords marched into the court. She waved them to close and lock the doors from outside. Then her eyes lowered to the dark shaman. "I would offer you the easier way out of this, Alti but I know your answer already."
The shaman's upper lip twitched from her mounting anger. "You owe me everything… I made you the Destroyer of Nations."
The Conqueror's eyes lit up with such a challenge. "No, Alti I made myself the Destroyer of Nations and I will continue doing so without you." She drummed her right fingers on her throne's arm. "I do not require any shamanism to conqueror the world." She slowly stood up and plucked her scepter up into her right hand.
"Do not fool yourself," whispered the shaman. "That little warlord rebellion has already caused unrest in the realm."
"And I've almost put that rebellion down." The Conqueror stood poised at the top of her dais and her eyes fixed on the evil shaman.
Alti body trembled with her rage. "Did the rebellion not show you how weak you've become? You've lost your destiny, Conqueror but I can return you to it."
The Conqueror slammed her scepter onto the dais's floor, which loudly echoed through the court. "I make my own destiny, shaman and it's time we've parted destines."
Alti growled then hotly questioned, "And what happened to our agreement to conquer the world, my liege?" Her pupils shrunk from fury, which made her eyes grow blacker.
The Conqueror recalled her mortal enemy's impacting words from her past as she lifted her chin. "There was never an us, Alti… there is only the realm." Her hungry smile developed as she definably declared, "And I am the realm." She proudly descended the throne while casually mentioning, "But don't think what we've shared was meaningless. I'll always remember it… remember you." The Conqueror lifted her scepter so that the Cronos Stone tilted the shaman's head back. "You'll have a special place of honor among...." She leaned in and huskily finished, "my conquered."
Alti snarled as her right hand whipped out of her robe and her swiftly obscured hand rammed into the Conqueror's left side. She snidely whispered, "Long live the Conqueror." She twisted the dagger then ripped it from the Conqueror's side, which dripped the ruler's blood.
The Conqueror didn't flinch despite the hot pain flashing up her side.
Alti lifted the dagger up between their faces and it hummed a bright green. "If I can't have your soul here then I will find it another time." She laughed as the ruler's blood trickled over the handle and over her hand.
The Conqueror hastily tried to take a swipe at the Cronos Dagger but she was too late as the shaman vanished in a green light. She scanned the soldiers while barking out, "Nobody passes through any doors!" Her left hand quickly came up and touched the Cronos Stone, which flashed green and the ruler vanished.
The Conqueror's body felt like it was being torn apart as the Cronos Stone linked to her mind. It read her destination she had in mind then suddenly the dark world exploded green so that her eyes felt burned. She then suddenly sensed a firm grounding under her boots as she remained hunched over and gasping for air. She slowly stood up while clenching the scepter in her right hand. She rose up to her feet gradually as she stared at her hometown of Amphipolis nestled in the base of the valley and sprawling along side the Strymon River. It was just as she recalled it- the village that was growing into the focal city of the Macedonian Providence before it was attack by Cortese.
Suddenly a sharp scream pierced the peacefulness on the hilltop that the Conqueror resided and she immediately recognized the cry. Her heart wildly beat as she broke into a powerful sprint away from her village. Her bleeding wound protested the energetic run up a hillside but the ruler ignored it. She erupted over the side and discovered the dark shaman towering over a young, fallen girl in the tall grass with her hands up.
The Conqueror put the scepter into her left hand while she extracted her sword from her side. She didn't wait another beat as she quickly ran the rest of the distance, gave her powerful war cry, and leaped into the air with her right leg stretching out.
Alti heard the echoing cry that she didn't expect. She looked up too late and was slammed by a hard boot to her chest. She yelled when she went flying into the air across the hill top and landed in front of some shrubs. She growled and lifted her head.
The Conqueror stood between the young girl and the shaman but her back was to the child.
The girl of about seven winters old sat up with her hands behind her back. She was awed by the woman that'd just saved her from the darker woman that'd attacked her.
Alti rose up to her full height and held out her hand with her fingers pointing at the Conqueror. "Time to relive some of your past, my liege." She called on her shamanism powers and her wild eyes centered on the Conqueror's soul. She clenched her hand, which sent out her power after the Conqueror to relive her past when she was attacked in previous battles.
The Conqueror braced herself because she knew of the shaman's abilities. Her teeth clenched and showed while her muscles tensed and protruded from under her skin. Then the pain never shocked her body as she anticipated and instead M'Lila's Gaelic necklace brightly shined a beautiful gold. She peered down at the glowing charm that obviously repelled Alti's shamanism.
Alti lowered her hand and stared at the charm with rage. "The eternity emblem of Danu," she hissed hotly. "It makes no difference." She aimed her shamanism for the girl behind the Conqueror.
The Conqueror hastily acted as she charged the shaman.
The young girl's scream expelled from her lips that vibrated all her pain. She fell to the grass and balled up as her mind flashed with images of some warrior's life in a battle. The corner of her lip trickled out with blood.
The ruler slammed her hilted fist across the shaman's head.
Alti's shamanism broke from torturing the girl. She swiftly grabbed the Conqueror's protecting necklace but she growled when the charm blazed against her palm in protest. Alti released the ember hot charm when she couldn't hold it anymore. She went for her only weapon and took a swipe.
The Conqueror easily leaned back as her enemy missed her face. She then did a fast roundhouse kick, which sent her opponent reeling into the air again. She then saw that the shaman was preparing to use her dagger to transport off. She leapt into the air and landed next to the shaman. She kicked the Cronos Dagger out of her hand then knelt down beside Alti. "Ah ah aaaah, Alti… no more time travel for you." She slammed her fist into the shaman's face to knock her unconscious.
The Conqueror climbed to her feet while Alti moaned and her head slumped to the right. She turned her head to the young girl curled up on the ground. She hastily went to her and knelt beside her; her right hand carefully touched the child's shoulder. "Are you okay?"
The girl's watery blue eyes met the older woman's. "I… I think so," she rasped and furiously wiped her tears away.
"Try to sit up," offered the Conqueror. She steadied her voice to be even while she helped the girl sit up. She inspected the girl's face and wiped the blood from the corner of her mouth. "You'll be fine, Xena."
The girl's eyes widened at her mysterious savior. "How do you know my name?" She shook her head then hastily asked, "Who are you? Are you a goddess?"
The Conqueror's lips curled into a grin as childhood memories floated back to her. She leaned in and whispered, "No, I'm not a goddess… I'm mortal just like you." She then stood up with her golden scepter in her left hand and her right hand was her sword. She tried not to chuckle at the girl's worshipping trance that was locked on her. There was so much she could tell her younger self however she knew the risks that were involved too.
Instead the Conqueror turned her back on the girl and went back to the Cronos Dagger. She picked it up then tucked it away in her belt. She marched over to the moaning shaman that would wake any heartbeat. She placed her sword hand on the shaman so that her skin met the shaman's but she paused and peered over her shoulder at her young self.
Young Xena was sitting up and stared in amazement as the raven haired god-like warrior vanished with the unconscious woman. She whispered, "Ly will never believe this." She then heard her mother frantically yelling for her so she tried to get up.
"Open the damn gates!" furiously demanded Melinda when she raced up to the gates of the fortress. Just behind her were the Amazons and her lover was at her side.
"M-m-my liege, we thought you were-"
"Hurry, fools," snapped Melinda then when the gates were open wide enough she raced through it.
Janice slipped through then waited for the Amazons to come too. She then turned to the gate guards and waited for her ancestor to move through the gate. She knew Melinda would race ahead with the Amazons so she focused on the sentry guards. She noticed how they were gawking at her and Gabrielle but she hotly ordered, "Lock up the gates and don't let anybody in or out."
The guards wavered because they still gaped at Gabrielle and Janice.
"Now," clipped the archeologist, which got their attention.
"Yes, dekarchos," replied a sentry. He shoved his partner to hurry with the heavy iron gates, which were merely the first layer of the gates.
Janice turned back to her ancestor and whispered, "Come on." Up ahead, she heard her lover in a heated argument with the three guards in front of the heavy doors to the courtroom. When she and Gabrielle ascended the steps the soldiers were opening the doors for them.
Melinda and the Amazons poured into the courtroom just past the six soldiers that stood inside. Her eyes swept the courtroom that was only occupied by lined up soldiers. She instantly noticed the guards all became confused at seeing her presence plus three Amazons behind her.
Janice and Gabrielle ambled in last and also were shocked to see only sentries. Then a bright green light flashed in the center of the courtroom and two bodies slowly materialized.
"Close the doors and lock them!" demanded Melinda to the sentries outside.
The sentries hastily acted and threw the doors shut then slipped the heavy wood bolt that required two to work.
The linguist turned her head back as she witnessed the return of the Conqueror and the shaman.
Alti was awake that instant and she brought her fist into the Conqueror's jaw.
The Conqueror growled but she was thrown onto her back when the shaman kicked her off. Her scepter was thrown from her left hand thanks to the extra shot of pain from her wound.
The gold scepter rolled several paces away from her fingertips.
Alti tried to chase after it but the Conqueror's long legs moved and made her stumble away.
The ruler snarled and flipped onto her feet but she staggered from side to side as her bleeding wound was affecting her more. She glimpsed to her left and saw the newcomers. "I told you to stay behind!" she furiously yelled at the group.
Alti's features lit up at seeing the prospect of new casualties. "My liege, you've allied with the enemy?" She laughed in amusement and tormented, "I'm so glad they've decided to join the fun." She stepped back twice then lifted her arms. "You're all just in time to see what a few thousand souls gives." Her grin widened and her feet started to hover over the marble floor.
The Conqueror's features darkened dangerously as she knew Alti had grown powerful. Her stomach knotted at the concept of having to fight a super powerful shaman and especially with everybody now in the courtroom. She didn't mind sacrificing her soldiers but this was far more risky.
Alti yelled and her shamanism allowed her to quickly fly at an alarming speed.
The Conqueror was abruptly slammed by Alti's brute hit that made her airborne. She smashed hard into the floor and moaned from all the pain coursing through her body. She forced her body to get up.
Janice snapped out of her awestruck stare and grabbed Melinda's arm. "You and the Amazons distract her. I've got six bullets so move when I tell you to do it."
Melinda glanced at the Amazons, who all unsheathed their swords in agreement. She had the Amazon sword that'd been the Conqueror's earlier. She and the Amazons hastily joined the Conqueror in fighting the dark shaman.
Janice Covington knelt and swiftly ripped her revolver from her holster. She cocked the hammer then turned to Gabrielle. "Whatever you do, don't make yourself a target to Alti." She didn't say anything else as she approached the ensuing fight. She lifted her gun and carefully aimed it at the flying shaman that was attacking her friends.
Melinda slashed at Alti and caught her on the leg.
Alti growled then quickly flew up higher away from the four women that were trying to attack her.
Janice smirked as she lifted her gun and had perfect aim. Her index finger started to pull back on the trigger.
"Janice!" yelled Gabrielle however the bard's warning was too late.
The Conqueror had already lunged and slammed the archeologist to the ground.
Janice was on her back, her body crushed by the powerful body over hers. She peered up as her revolver was mere inches from her grasp but she hotly growled, "What the Hell are you doing?"
"I won't let you kill her," the ruler hissed back.
Alti's cold eyes flickered to the Conqueror wrestling with the archeologist then her sights centered on the shiny metal weapon that Janice Covington had since the beginning.
Melinda followed the shaman's gaze. "No," she breathed when Alti dove for the gun. She gave a warcry then sprinted after the gun and shaman.
Gabrielle turned to the sentry next to her, who stood stiff. She ripped his spear from his grasp and took aim at the swooping shaman. She tossed the spear with amazing precision thanks to her strengthened arms.
Alti's fingers curled around the barrel of the gun but the spear pierced through the top of her palm. She dropped the weapon as she soared back up into the air and ripped the spear from her hand. She screamed in pain then turned her angry eyes onto the rebel leader.
Melinda scooped up the revolver as it dropped from the air. She backed pedaled so she could get a better aim at her flying target.
Alti heft the spear towards the rebel and prepared to hurl it.
The Conqueror sprung to her feet while yelling, "Chaaaayaaaaa!" She rocketed straight up into the air with her right hand reaching up and her fingers wrapping around the shaft of the flying spear that was aimed at Gabrielle. She spotted Melinda's actions and in midair she spun the spear around then when her feet hit the ground she threw it at her descendant.
The linguist's face broke with shock when the revolver was ripped from her hands by the spear.
The revolver flew in the air then resounded on the floor with the spear rolling over top of it.
"Spears, now!" yelled the Conqueror.
The soldiers with the spears all pulled their arms back simultaneously then aimed at the flying shaman. They hurled the spears at the dark shaman flying high above.
Melinda quickly backed flipped across the court and landed beside the Amazons so she wouldn't be caught in the rain of spears.
Alti dodged the spears with ease thanks to her incredible speed.
Janice Covington climbed to her feet and unsheathed her sword but she tried to inch for her revolver without rousing the shaman's suspicions.
"Come down here and fight us, Alti!" shouted the ruler.
Alti laughed and replied, "I don't think so, my liege." She then set her eyes on Gabrielle because she knew the Conqueror would protect her above all.
The Conqueror sneered that Alti was targeting her shamanism on Gabrielle. She reached for her chakram but she knew she was too late when Gabrielle painfully cried out behind her.
The rebel leader's mind filled with the images of her legs being broken when she was lashed to the cross. She lost her grip on her cane and started to tumble down the steps.
The Conqueror jumped up the few steps and caught her friend with her left arm with her sword falling to the ground. She held the crying bard while taking aim with her chakram then something caught her eye on the balcony.
Alti knew that leering look of the Conqueror, which broke her concentration on attacking the bard. She followed the ruler's line of view and when she turned around her eyes filled with the view of a flying tiger with his claws and teeth out.
Hu's powerful roar resounded through the courtroom.
Alti's painful scream followed as she was sent crashing onto the ground. Her shoulder screamed in pain when claws entered through her shoulder and ripped her skin open. She grabbed the tiger by his face and held him back from ripping into her throat. She focused her shamanism on the tiger and flashed images of Toris's sword ripping his gut open.
Hu howled then fell off the shaman.
Alti slowly staggered to her feet but when she was standing a hard fist slammed into her face. She hissed and went stumbling back but a kick to her stomach landed her on her back.
The Conqueror towered over her enemy and in her left gloved hand was her chakram.
Janice Covington cocked the hammer on her revolver and aimed it at Alti, who was trying to stand up again. Her aim though wasn't true as the Conqueror's body was in the way. She growled in annoyance so she took a side step.
Melinda waved at the Amazons to move.
Ephiny, Solari, and Callisto hastily encircled the shaman with their blade tips pointed at the bleeding shaman.
Melinda stood behind Alti with her dark face mirroring that of the Conqueror. "Move, Alti and we'll run you through," she snarled dangerously.
Gabrielle was finally on her feet again with her cane. She was breathing heavily but she glimpsed up when she spotted the beautiful Chin woman standing on the wrap around balcony high above.
Lao Ma pointed her index and middle finger at Janice Covington.
The archeologist's gun was mysteriously pried from her hands and it floated across the court.
The Conqueror lifted her chakram and placed the blade under the shaman's chin. She leaned into Alti and huskily whispered, "This is your destiny, Alti… death by the Conqueror." Her right hand was behind her and her fingers wrapped around cold steel.
Alti wanted to move but the sword blades all reacted to her slight motion. She now trembled in fear but she angrily promised, "If you kill me then the Amazons will never be able to enter Eternity."
Ephiny shifted her grip on her sword hilt when she heard this.
"Here's a riddle for you, Alti." The Conqueror's right hand slipped between their bodies and she moved her face into Alti's; her lips almost brushing the shaman's. "What are you destined never to find in any of your lifetimes?"
Alti's features twisted in anger. "You can't kill me, Xena… you need me like I need you."
"If she doesn't then I will," promised Melinda from behind.
Alti ignored the remark as she held the Conqueror's gaze. She stared deep into the Conqueror's eyes until she read into her soul. Then her astral projection abilities suddenly pin pointed a moment in the Conqueror's life and she huskily rasped, "No, you knew all this time!" She inhaled sharply when something pressed up against her gut. "Our destiny is to rule the world, Xena don't betray it."
The Conqueror slowly pulled back from Alti's space while murmuring, "The betrayals end here… with you."
The courtroom echoed with a loud shot then there was silence.
Alti peered down at her stomach when the immense pain ravaged her body. She stared in shock as the smoking revolver remained in the Conqueror's hand and her blood oozed from the wound the bullet made in her stomach. The bullet had traveled up through her ribs and just grazed her heart then buried itself into her left shoulder.
The Conqueror lowered the gun to her side. Her blue eyes remained steely as she watched the shaman slowly die from the bullet.
Alti grasped the Conqueror's forearm and rasped, "Et tu, meus leodium?"
The Conqueror's upper lip curled and she replied, "Yes, Alti." Then she stepped back twice. "Enjoy Avici."
Alti collapsed on the floor and her crimson blood pooled around her body.
The Amazons lowered their swords simultaneously and stared at the dead shaman.
Melinda read the ruler, who was shaking some but nobody could tell but her.
The Conqueror twisted her head and called, "Lao Ma, where is she now?"
Lao Ma had her eyes closed but her eyes were flickering under her eyelids. "She is in the Chamber of Blood," she gently answered. "She is still descending to the Chamber of Avici."
Janice was knelt beside Hu and was relieved to see he was okay after all. She stood up as Hu carefully tried to get up onto all fours.
Gabrielle limped to her descendant.
Ephiny shook her head then questioned aloud, "How will our sisters enter Eternity?"
The Conqueror's brow was covered in sweat and her body burned hotter than normal even for a battle. "The new Holy Word that Yakut must give the Amazon dead is Love." She then rapidly fell to her knees and her head rolled as her eyes spun uncontrollably.
"Conqueror!" cried the scared bard, who hastily limped towards the ruler.
Melinda Pappas made it over to the ruler just as she pitched forward. She turned the moaning ruler over in her arms found the source of her pain; the wound was bleeding profusely now from the continuous fighting.
"What's happened?" demanded the rebel leader.
"She's been injured," answered the southerner. She turned her head to the sentries and furiously ordered, "Get the damn healer!" She worked her arms under the Conqueror and with gritted teeth she stood up with the ruler cradled in her arms.
Everybody stared in amazement at the display of strength from Melinda Pappas. Gabrielle broke from the trance first and quickly followed along side the linguist.
The sentry opened the door and stepped aside when the two seeming Conquerors stepped past. He was absolutely confused by two rulers that he didn't have time to question anything.
Melinda carried the ruler up to the bedchambers. She carefully deposited the wounded ruler onto the bed then she quickly inspected the wound. Behind her she heard Solari, Callisto, and Gabrielle following after her. "Solari, get the fireplace started."
The Amazon jumped at the barking order but she hastily went to the fireplace across the chambers. She stole a few heartbeats as she assessed how to start the fire.
"Callisto, I need a bowl of water and some towels from the washroom."
Callisto quickly crossed the bedchambers and disappeared into candlelit bathroom.
Gabrielle stood at the side of the bed near the Conqueror's head. She gently touched and ruler's moist forehead and whispered, "Conqueror?"
The ruler's eyes were closed; her breathing heavy but she clasped her hand through Gabrielle's. "Xena," she reminded in a hoarse tone.
The bard's tears reached the edge of her eyes yet she contained them. She peered up at Melinda, who was ripping a dagger out of the Conqueror's boot. "Is she….?"
The translator rolled the ruler onto her right side while saying, "She's lost a lot of blood." She knew time would be wasted by removing the armor and leathers so instead she used the dagger to efficiently cut away the blood soaked leathers around the wound. "Where's that damn healer?" she hotly complained.
Janice Covington quickly entered the bedchambers with Hu behind her then Ephiny following up. "I took care of the men in the courtroom. The healer is coming now, Mel."
"Janice, help Solari with the fire and put the poker into the fire."
The archeologist slightly grimaced but she quickly went to help Solari.
"Ephiny, I need you to balance the Conqueror."
The Amazon came up to the right of Melinda and carefully held the ruler still.
Callisto finally appeared with a soaked towel then another dried one.
Melinda picked up the wet towel and carefully dabbed it along the bloody wound to clean it up. She was able to assess the wound better and realized it would require more than just a few stitches. It looked as if Alti had twisted the blade in the ruler's side making it a lot worse.
"What's the fire for?" murmured the bard.
"The wound can't be stitched closed," answered the Conqueror.
Melinda sighed and nodded. "It has to be burned closed before she loses anymore blood." Then from the corner of her eye she saw the healer rushing into the bedchambers.
The healer stopped short after he scanned the room that had two rulers, the rebel leader, the prisoner, and three mythical Amazons not to mention a tiger. His eyes were wider than Helios and his chest still.
"Get over here, Cadmus before the next thing you see is Elysia."
The healer snapped out of it when he processed the threat from the ruler's voice but he didn't know which had spoken. He raced over to the bedside and setup his medical kit on the nearby nightstand. He mentally switched into his healer mind state and clipped, "What happened?"
"A dagger wound to the left side. It'll have to be burned closed," informed Melinda.
Cadmus turned around and inspected the bleeding wound then nodded his agreement.
Janice yanked out the poker from the fire and saw it was indeed red and white. She hurried over to her lover and carefully handed the poker to her lover.
"Hold her down," ordered the translator. She placed her left hand on the ruler's upper ribs then lowered the poker close to the wound.
"Do it," snapped the Conqueror.
Gabrielle closed her eyes when the poker descended the small space. She tightly held onto her friend's slick hand but the Conqueror didn't squeeze any harder. There was a sizzling sound then Gabrielle smelled burning skin, which almost made her nauseas.
The Conqueror growled lowly and her right hand clawed into the bronze bedside. The coursing pain ripped even harder when the burning poker turned over her skin and her eyes rolled up into the back of her head. The pain was instantly gone and her world went black.
The Conqueror lifted her right hand to her forehead and moved her moist bangs back. Her forehead was blazing hot but she disregarded it as she inhaled the all too familiar smell of salve. When she opened her eyes, she was met by darkness so she remained still and let her eyes adjust. She soon realized she was staring up at the ceiling of her bedchambers but with the right turn of her head she focused on a slumped form in a chair.
"Deja-vu," murmured the Conqueror and she must have been slightly too loud.
Gabrielle stirred awake and lifted her head off the wall. She sadly smiled and leaned forward in the chair so she could inspect the injured ruler. "How you feel?"
"Like I just was-"
"Don't say it," cut off the rebel. She stretched out her left hand and touched the burning forehead. "Melinda mentioned you'd have a fever tonight."
The ruler noticed how Gabrielle kept her voice down. She squinted and focused her view beyond the rebel then she spotted the two forms lying on the sofa and Lao Ma's tiger sprawled out on the floor by the sofa.
Gabrielle twisted her head and studied how Janice was securely held in Melinda's arms. She sadly smiled at the new couple on the sofa then turned her head back to the Conqueror. "They refused to leave."
"I see you did too," remarked the ruler.
The bard shrugged. "I was worried." She picked up the wet cloth from the water bowl on the nightstand. She squeezed out the water while saying, "Janice told Cyrene what'd happened and of course she refused to stay in the house. She came here to check on you."
"Where is she now?" whispered the ruler. She closed her eyes when the cool, wet cloth was moving over her brow.
"She took one of the bedchambers with Melpomene. The Amazons also took rooms… I hope you don't mind?"
The Conqueror softly laughed. "Not at all. I'm glad some people are smart enough."
Gabrielle rolled her eyes yet she had a smile. "How do you feel?"
The Conqueror studied the rebel after the cloth was gone and she asked, "Honestly?" After the rebel's nod, she answered, "I've had worse."
"I didn't ask that," reminded the bard.
"I'm fine," simply stated the ruler. "Why don't you take one of the bedchambers?"
"I'm fine too," argued Gabrielle and she enjoyed the ruler's scowl after she threw the words back at the ruler. "I'm not leaving."
The Conqueror knew she wasn't going to win especially when she was so worn down. "Listen, I need to get my armor and leathers off."
"Alright," agreed the bard, who started to move her hands but the ruler stopped her.
"You can only help if you lay down in this bed. It's big enough for three and you need some rest." The Conqueror's ice blue eyes caught the few candles' light and shined with determination.
"Alright," relented the rebel. She was sitting close enough, which allowed her to use both her hands versus standing and having one hand.
The Conqueror sat up very carefully but she needed the help because her body strength was much weaker. Between her and Gabrielle, she was quickly out of her armor and then her leathers. Her boots, greaves, and cape had been removed earlier, which was a relief. The last to go were the bracers since the gauntlets were long gone too. She was only left in her black nightshift that she wore under her leathers for the colder seasons. "Come on," she quietly ordered.
Gabrielle picked up her cane from the floor then steady her body weight as she stood up. She limped over to the other side of the bed, sat, put her cane down, and took her boots off next. She sighed in relief when her back met the incredibly soft bed and she had to be an arm length away from her friend. "This bed is huge," she commented. "Why in the world do you need such a huge bed?"
The Conqueror turned her head to the bard and her right eyebrow hiked up her brow.
Gabrielle turned her head and saw the look then there was the seductive grin that appeared. She blushed in response when she realized the answer to her question. "Well…." She cleared her throat in hopes it would remove her flush but it wasn't working.
The Conqueror knew her friend was uncomfortable so her grin disappeared and she changed the topic. "What happened to Alti's body?"
"Melinda ordered the sentries to have her cremated down in the dungeons." Gabrielle was confused and quietly asked, "Why'd she do that?"
"Alti could be reborn," mentioned the ruler, "but without a body… there's not much to come back to."
"Huh," muttered the thoughtful bard. "Janice picked up the scepter and your weapons."
"Good." The ruler closed her eyes. "Go to sleep, Gabrielle."
Gabrielle couldn't argue that order at all. "Sleep well, Xena." Then it wasn't long before she drifted off into a more peaceful state knowing that her friend would be okay.
Chapter 25 – Family is Forever (Conclusion)
It wasn't until the afternoon of the following day that Janice and Melinda had disappeared into a bedchamber. They soaked in a warm bath and worked off the stress from the months. While they were cleaning up, the Conqueror was easing out of bed then donning her finest Chin attire of red and black. She then met with Lao Ma later to discuss the fate of Alti's soul in the afterlife. The Amazons kept busy by searching through Corinth's endless marketplace where they were highly amused by one merchants selling Conqueror merchandise. Gabrielle spent time with Cyrene and Melpomene and told them what'd happened last night.
Gabrielle was startled from her story when there was a knock on the bedchambers door. She was seated at the table by the window with Melpomene in her lap and Cyrene sitting across from her. "Come in," she called.
The Conqueror opened the door and glided into the room.
Cyrene smiled as her daughter approached them. She'd seen her daughter dressed this regal but never so up close. She'd come to realize her daughter had a fascinated with Chin by the way much of the cultural was here in the fortress. One day soon she'd speak to her daughter about it. "How do you feel?"
The Conqueror softly smiled and replied, "I am better, mother."
"Just don't push yourself," reminded the mother, who realized exactly who she was talking to but this was still her child.
The Conqueror had an arched eyebrow but her smile wasn't lost. This would certainly take some adjusting but she wouldn't have it any other way. "Gabrielle?" Her eyes lowered to the bard, who was inquisitively looking at her. "I need you to come with me. Are you free?"
The bard could tell it was important so she dipped her head down to Melpomene. "I'll finish the story later," she promised.
"You promise, Auntie Gabby?"
The bard grinned while lifting the child. "Double promise." She lowered the girl to her feet then she picked up her walking stick from the table. She gradually stood up then limped over to her friend.
The Conqueror glanced at Melpomene, who was still cautious with her but she would address that when it was time. Instead she focused on the limping rebel and together they silently left the bedchambers.
"Is something wrong?" questioned the bard.
"Not at all," answered the ruler. "I want you to meet my Chin counterpart since you will be the advisor of state soon."
Gabrielle faintly smiled at her future title in the ruler's court. She peered up and carefully asked, "Lao Ma, right?"
"Yes," answered the ruler, "but go by Lady Lao unless she tells you otherwise."
"Got it," softly agreed the bard.
The Conqueror stopped in front of another bedchambers and opened the door to a larger bedchambers that had the sun streaming through the open balcony. She walked in then closed the door after the rebel entered.
Gabrielle grew still when the beautiful oriental woman from the balcony last night floated up to her. She was dazzled by the matching Chin style dress to the Conqueror's and her lips were ruby red. From her ears dangled golden chandlers and across the chest of her robe was the design of a dog in gold trim.
The Conqueror bowed her head to the Chin ruler then held out her hand to Gabrielle. "Lao Ma, this is Gabrielle. Gabrielle will soon be taking over the position as state advisor in my court." She turned her attention to Gabrielle. "Lady Lao has reined over Chin for many moons now and we've been allied with the House of Lao for twelve moons."
Gabrielle realized she was getting her first taste of politics but she sensed too that the Conqueror had other intents. "It's an honor to meet you, Lady Lao." She mimicked the ruler's custom by bowing down as much as she could with her cane in hand.
Lao Ma returned the bow then straightened up simultaneously with Gabrielle. "The Conqueror has informed me that you and she were once enemies." At the bard's nod she mentioned, "I too was once her enemy."
Gabrielle glanced up at the silent Conqueror but returned her attention to the Chin ruler. "I think the Conqueror and I have moved beyond that point now."
"Yes, we have," softly agreed the Conqueror.
Lao Ma thinly smiled at the pair but she centered on Gabrielle again. "I wish to give you a gift, Gabrielle." She saw how the bard was about to protest so she ceased it with her next words. "It was a gift I gave the Conqueror when I first met her."
Gabrielle wasn't sure what to say so she peered up at her friend for help.
The Conqueror bent over and murmured, "It is rude to refuse any gift in Chin culture."
The bard trusted the ruler's wisdom and she smiled at Lao Ma. "I'd be honored… thank you."
Lao Ma returned the smile then bowed her head slightly. She peered up at her counterpart and informed, "She must lie down for this."
The Conqueror understood so she signaled for Gabrielle to take the nearby sofa.
Gabrielle was confused but the Conqueror guided her over to the sofa. She sat on the sofa first then propped her walking stick against the sofa. She painfully lifted her legs onto the sofa then rested flat on her back.
The Conqueror stood beside the bard's head while Lao Ma came around her. "This may hurt briefly, Gabrielle but don't fear it."
Gabrielle tried to calm her twisting stomach. She nodded then focused on the Chin ruler.
Lao Ma raised her hands up in the air then pulled back her heavy sleeves. She closed her eyes and her hands glided over the bard's stomach and came lower to her thighs. She slowly grazed her hands down the bard's marred legs hidden by the long, brown skirt. Then when her hands were at Gabrielle's ankles, she heard a sharp intake of breath from the bard and she slowly glided her hands back up.
Gabrielle sensed some strange pain in her legs then something moving under her skin. She squeezed her eyes shut tighter and then the pain was quickly gone, completely from her legs. She sharply exhaled then breathed in an exhilarating breath that derived from some unknown source.
The Conqueror pleasingly observed then when Lao Ma pulled away, she gently ordered, "Sit up, Gabrielle."
The rebel's eyes fluttered open then she had an unknown burst of strength in her legs. She slid her legs off the couch and pressed her hands into the sofa. She reached for the walking stick first but the Conqueror snatched it.
"Stand on your own," softly urged the ruler.
Gabrielle was confused yet she commanded her normally weak legs to lift her up. Her rear thigh muscles responded and raised her up with simple pleasure. Then her feet went flat against the inside of her boots as her calves lifted her completely up and perfectly straight. "By the gods," she gasped and her face suddenly mixed over with excitement and astonishment.
The Conqueror revealed a beautiful smile at her friend's happiness.
Lao Ma had gentle features as she stepped back.
Gabrielle tested her legs with a step forward. She stared down at her legs that seemed to return to her like the shattering never happened on the cross.
Simultaneously the rulers stepped aside and made room for the rebel leader.
Gabrielle took another step and her smile grew. She made a third step then a fourth and walked past the rulers until she was across the room. She turned around with an amazed expression.
Lao Ma neared the bard and explained, "I hope by healing your legs that your memories will also begin to heal."
Gabrielle suddenly cried at the Chin ruler's words. She abruptly pulled the oriental woman into a strong embrace. "Thank you so much."
Lao Ma eased into the hug as her smile revealed. She hugged the younger woman, who released tears of joy.
The Conqueror's head slightly hung then she lifted and sadly smiled at the bard's peaceful face nestled between Lao Ma's shoulder and neck. She slowly inhaled and her chest gradually fell as another weight lifted off her shoulders.
Gabrielle opened her eyes as she withdrew from the hug but Lao Ma held her hands. "Thank you again, Lady Lao. You don't know… I…" She shook her head as her bittersweet face was moist from tears.
Lao Ma freed her right hand and wiped the tears away. "Please call me by my first name, Ma."
The bard's tears returned and she whispered, "I can never repay you for this."
"You already have," murmured the Chin ruler, who would not elaborate on her words. She sensed the Conqueror beside her and she peered up. "I must return to Chin soon, Xena."
"I understand," agreed the ruler, "you have been here for almost a moon."
Lao Ma released the bard completely then turned to her counterpart. "Now that I know you have finally found peace then I am no longer needed."
"I wouldn't quite put it like that," argued the Conqueror.
Gabrielle was wondering how her friend would reword it but by Lao Ma's revealing smile she knew it was good. She then found the Conqueror switching her attention to her.
"We must speak to Toris soon."
"With Cyrene?" urged the rebel.
The Conqueror nodded then said to Lao Ma. "When will you leave?"
"Perhaps tomorrow at first light," answered the Chin ruler.
The Conqueror moved her head with understanding then whispered, "We'll leave you to prepare." She then collapsed Lao Ma's hands into hers and whispered, "Thank you, Ma." She released her then glided out of the room.
Gabrielle thanked the Chin ruler again then trailed behind the ruler.
Lao Ma quietly watched the new friends leave her chambers. Her eyes wondered over to Gabrielle's walking stick that she left behind in all the excitement; it made her smile in content.
Gabrielle walked along side the ruler and she gently questioned, "Did you ask her to do that?"
The Conqueror considered the question then honestly replied, "It was actually the reverse. She asked me." She went silent though when Melinda and Janice's chambers opened up just a few paces ahead. She and Gabrielle came to stop as the strangers from another world slipped out of the room. Her eyebrow slowly rose up when she saw the strange attire on the women.
Janice Covington tipped her fedora back with a flick of her finger, her brim allowing her to see the Conqueror's face. "I had enough of those damn Amazon leathers," she remarked gruffly.
Melinda Pappas was in her attire she first wore when arriving in this world. Her hair was pulled back in a bun and her black glasses on again. "Well good afternoon, y'all." She pleasantly smiled at them.
"Where are the Amazons?" probed the archeologist.
"They went to the market," answered Gabrielle.
"Shit," muttered Janice, "I should have been on patrol with my squad." She sheepishly laughed as she realized this.
The Conqueror waved her off. "I had my tetrarchès take care of them." She tilted her head then mentioned, "He was rather complimentary of you, Janice."
Janice acted cocky as her hands went to her hips and she joked, "You should hire more female dekarchos like me."
Melinda rolled her eyes from behind her lover's back. "What of Toris?"
"We were getting ready to take care of him now," informed Gabrielle.
"We'll help out." Janice dropped her hands from her hips. "Besides I wanna see that dumb look on his face when he sees double."
Gabrielle quietly laughed and shook her head. "Melinda, how do you do it?"
"She does it very well," quipped Janice Covington.
The rebel leader flushed at this innuendo of the joke. She wasn't absolutely naïve to sex but she was naïve to two women being together.
Melinda decided to cut into the uncomfortable conversation for the bard. "Can we help, Conqueror?"
The Conqueror thought it over then nodded her head. "Gabrielle, can you get mother?"
Gabrielle answered by stepping around the ruler and quickly heading down the hallway to her shared bedchambers with her adopted mother.
Melinda tilted her head then stared in awe at Gabrielle's receding back.
Janice blinked and she loudly voiced, "Holy shit! She's walking without the limp."
Gabrielle paused in front of the door, turned her head, and teasingly called, "It's not polite to talk about somebody in third person when they're here." She opened the door then disappeared into the chambers.
Janice's jaw snapped shut and she muttered, "She's been waiting all this time to say that too." She shook her head then peered up at the ruler. She asked the question that Melinda already knew the answer. "How were her legs healed?"
"Lao Ma," simply supplied the ruler.
The archeologist blinked then peered up at her lover. "The qi?"
"Yes, I reckon so," agreed the southerner.
Gabrielle and Cyrene crept out of the bedchambers then quietly closed the door. Unexpectedly the bard was enveloped in a hug from Cyrene and Gabrielle pulled back while murmuring some promise to explain it later. She and Cyrene wondered down to the group and Gabrielle mentioned, "Melpomene is sleeping."
"She's worn out huh?" questioned the archeologist.
"Exhausted," agreed Cyrene.
Melinda slipped her hand through Janice's and followed behind the Conqueror for the dungeons. She listened to the idly chitchat between Gabrielle, Janice, and Cyrene yet her thoughts wondered off to her and Janice's soon voyage back to their world and time. She noticed how the Conqueror seemed to know exactly which cell to go to despite the Conqueror hadn't been around for the Toris incident.
The guard at the door pulled out his ring of keys and fidgeted with them. He was taken aback by the doubles before him but he could tell if he didn't hurry up that the real Conqueror would have his hide. He finally unlocked the door then stepped aside.
Cyrene decided to go first so she carefully entered the cell.
Toris stood up from the bedded pallet and gawked at Cyrene. "Mother?"
Toris's grey-blue eyes rose up when his sister emerged in the cell next. His face dimmed and he seemed as if he would have lunged if his mother hadn't been there. Then he lost that look when he saw Gabrielle, who'd often filled his heart that his sister had held. "What's going on?" He narrowed his eyes at his sister. "What've you done, Xena?"
The Conqueror tilted her head but she didn't reply.
Cyrene stepped up to her son and asked, "Is this what you've been doing?"
"We thought something happened to you," piped up the bard.
Toris glanced between his family members then he stiffened when two more women filled the dungeon. He stared dumbfounded at the two strangely dressed women that were mirror images of his sister and Gabrielle.
Janice Covington folded her arms over her chest then leaned towards her lover and muttered, "Told you he'd have a dumb look on his face."
"What in Ha…. " Toris touched his forehead.
Gabrielle understood her adopted brother's confusion so she simply explained, "This is Janice." She directed at her twin then pointed at the tall linguist. "And this is Melinda. They're our descendants… sort of but it's a long story."
Toris stared at Melinda and Janice as he quickly realized he'd almost killed the wrong people. He slightly paled, which caused his mother to come closer.
"What were you thinking, Toris?" urged the upset mother. "Gabrielle and I were convinced something happened to you. We haven't heard from you in moons."
Toris faltered under his mother's onslaught plus he was still stunned by the doppelgangers. "I… I… mother, I'm sorry." He tried to regain control then stated, "I was trying to…."
"Get somebody killed?" remarked Cyrene.
Toris scowled at his mother's defense of his sister. "That is not my sister!" He pointed at the Conqueror.
"Incase ya forget," mentioned Melinda, "ya tried to kill me and Janice."
"I thought you were Xena," shot back the annoyed brother.
Gabrielle cleared her voice to grab everybody's attention. She peered up at her tall friend, who'd remained silent but assessing her brother. "You know, my sister and I use to argue. Yeah, yeah we would go for hours without talking to each other." She noticed the Conqueror wasn't budging from her judgmental evaluation of Toris and Toris was returning the look. "Come on," argued the bard, "A brother and sister, who haven't seen each other for ages should have more to say to each other than just…."
"So, you're an assassin now, hmm?" The Conqueror's tone was deep and husky.
"It's… a start," muttered the bard.
"You're a monster, Xena and it's about time you paid for it."
The Conqueror stepped forward so that she was next to her mother. "By assassinating me? I learned the hard way about justice since-"
"That hard way?" interjected Toris sarcastically. "Are you bragging? What I saw of you when we left our village, Xena was not something to be proud of."
The Conqueror's temper flared quickly. "And what did you see with your back to it all? Someone had to step forward. Cortese would have killed us all if we hadn't fought."
"If our people would have followed me into the hills-"
"Cortese would have hunted us down like dogs," hotly spat the Conqueror, "I had to make a stand, and I wasn't the only one who believed that."
"That's right," chided Toris. He stepped forward so that he matched his sister's stance. "Our brother believed it. Lyceus stood by you 'til the end, and it was his end. Remember?"
"I said fight," chewed out the furious ruler, "because it was our village. Lyceus believed that and I will say it again."
Toris prepared to come at his sister but then he stopped short when his mother stepped between them. "Now you're protecting her?" he snapped.
Cyrene's temper matched her son's and she hotly warned, "I'm protecting you from each other. This family has been torn apart long enough. If you're so much behind your baby brother then tell me this is what he would have wanted, right?"
Toris faltered when the table was turned on him. He shook his head then angrily reminded, "I'm sure Xena was thinking that too when she took over Greece and Rome… Gaul… Britannia," he spat, "and now the Norselands."
"Stop it," snapped Gabrielle, who neared her family. "You're so damn lucky, Toris." Her green eyes were on fire. "You have your mother and now Xena is trying to make amends." She shook her head then sadly whispered, "I have no family left so stop squandering it."
Toris's anger slowly died at the bard's upsetting confession. He'd always adored Gabrielle for everything she represented, which was much of what inspired him to face his sister. He could no longer sit in Amphipolis and watched Gabrielle fight her life long tormenter when he thought he could swiftly solve it… for everybody.
Janice stepped forward and touched her ancestor's shoulder. "You have family, Gabrielle… me and Mel included whether or not we're from different worlds."
Gabrielle touched her descendant's hand on her shoulder as her pain slightly eased.
"And we are your family too," reminded Cyrene. Her eyes fell on Toris first. "Right?" Her gaze flickered up to her tall daughter.
The Conqueror faintly nodded then touched her friend's forearm. "We all are family." Her stare settled on her brother. "Whether some of us recognize it or not family is forever."
Gabrielle sadly smiled at the echo of her words she reminded her friend of back in the Amazon Nation.
Melinda silently came behind her lover and lightly placed her hands on Janice's hips, her fingertips grazing the strapped on gun holster.
Toris released a deep breath when his mother stepped aside from between him and the Conqueror. He slightly nodded then murmured, "You're right."
Janice Covington grinned at finally witnessing things piece together again and it made her miss her mother and father. Well I wonder if we should all say 'hike, hike go team' right now, inwardly joked the archeologist. Janice though decided her smartass remark would certainly be lost on everybody but Melinda, who probably wouldn't appreciate it.
When Helios touched the western horizon the red and orange colors washed over the clouds then spilled over the dark woman standing in the tall, open window in the fortress that jutted out of the rocky hillside. The flock of seagulls swooped past then made a straight line for the meeting seas far beyond Corinth's lands.
The Conqueror broke away from her musing when there was a knock at her office. She called the person in and she greeted the rebel leader.
Gabrielle scanned the large office and mentioned, "Wow. It's almost as large as your bedchambers." She noticed how the Conqueror was silent and went back to staring out the window. She joined her at the window and figured out what had her friend's attention.
The gates of the fortress were creaking open and Toris was hugging Cyrene back. He withdrew some then his lips were moving while Cyrene's head was tilted to the side to show her listening.
"Did you say goodbye to him?" probed the ruler.
"Yes," answered the bard. She then solemnly peered up at the ruler. "He's just going to need some time."
The Conqueror didn't respond but she kept observing as her brother started through the gates.
Toris sensed somebody watching him so he stopped and partially turned. His grey-blue eyes met his sister's distant stare. He felt uneasy about staying in Corinth let alone in the fortress; he needed space to work this out. However before he stepped through the gates, he lifted his hand up in a wave.
The Conqueror hesitated but she unlocked her right hand and waved back at him. She lowered her hand when her brother turned his back and disappeared out of the gates.
Gabrielle sadly sighed and rested her hands behind her back. "He'll come around," she promised.
"I can't blame him," muttered the ruler. She dropped her head against the frame of the window but her stare rested on her friend.
"Are you sure about this dinner party tonight?" Gabrielle tried to read the ruler yet had very little luck. "I'm sure Lao Ma won't mind."
"It's traditional," reminded the ruler, "I don't plan on changing it."
Gabrielle relented as she knew the limitations between them right now. She just hoped overtime their relationship would strengthen and she could gain more insight about what made her friend tick. "Melinda and Janice seem excited to be going home tomorrow."
"Mmmm," merely replied the Conqueror.
The bard sighed then quietly offered, "I'll see you later tonight, Conqueror." She dipped her head then moved away to leave the office. She hesitated at the door though when the Conqueror's voice floated to her.
"Thank you, Gabrielle."
Gabrielle paused with her hand on the door ring as she looked at the ruler.
"For trying," elaborated the tall, dark woman.
"Always," softly promised the bard, who pulled the heavy, creaky door open and disappeared out of it.
The Conqueror peacefully watched the remaining streams of red and orange disappear over the horizon then high above the black sky was painted by stars. She slowly drew in a deep breath then studied her capital city that she'd fought so hard for. Her memory flashed of her siege against the Corinthians so long ago, which was her hardest battle next to taking over Sparta but she accomplished what the philosophers and bards called impossible.
At the same time as last night, the Conqueror discovered herself seated back at her throne but this time she didn't celebrate death but life in her realm and with her allies, masses, and her newly acquired family. Her expression was passive as she displayed herself as the ruler of her amazing realm. She wore a purple Chin robe tonight that had gold etching of a typical Chin design around it but a tiger on the front. Her hair was pulled into a tight bun behind her head then a dragon hair clip kept it all in place while a few strands in the front framed her face. She wore a gold ring on her right hand that sparkled a beautiful deep ruby.
Lao Ma was positioned at the base of the dais just like the evening Melinda Pappas, posed as the Conqueror, held a feast.
The Conqueror repeated much the same events of that feast as tradition called for it. The realm celebrated the arrival and departure of their allies in such fashion to always keep in good graces with the alley. It certainly wasn't that the Conqueror was a socialite yet she knew the importance of politics, especially with her alleys. Yet tonight did not feel like politics as this feast was very much the celebration of her family that she'd lost and now reclaimed her as much as she reclaimed. For the Conqueror, this was a celebration of change for her, for her realm.
The feast went into full swing when the Conqueror sat at the head of the main table. She had Cyrene to her right while Gabrielle was to the left then followed by Janice, Melinda, Melpomene, the Amazons, and Lao Ma sat at the head at the other end of the table. The table was filled with chatter among the friends and family except for the Conqueror, who merely carefully listened. The rebel leader noted the ruler's continued silence but she contributed it to her being worn out and especially her side wound. Gabrielle remained concerned that the Conqueror was pushing too hard yet she knew it wouldn't be her place to ask and certainly at the table with all the ears.
Janice leaned closer to her lover and muttered, "You think she'll ask you know who to dance?"
Melinda pushed her glasses up onto her bridge then she peered over the rim of her glasses at the Conqueror. "I reckon she is tired… she may have the dancing started without her."
The archeologist huffed but didn't reply as she took a drink of wine from her bronze goblet.
The Conqueror leaned back into her regal wood chair after finishing her meal. She calculated that everybody in the court was mostly finished which meant the entertainment would be required. She folded her hands in her lap then she decided whether to ask Lao Ma to begin the dancing. She knew however that Lao Ma wasn't one to dance and she didn't want to make the Chin ruler uncomfortable or lose face.
Cyrene leaned over to her daughter and softly asked, "What's next on the agenda?"
The Conqueror softened at her mother, who was well dressed thanks to the Conqueror's personal assistant's help. She leaned forward then quietly answered, "The entertainment, which is dancing. I usually start it."
Cyrene smiled at this prospect as it'd been along time since she'd done any dancing. Her eyes darted to the chatting bard, who was in the throws of a wild tale that was captivating everybody's attention at the table. She returned her focus to her daughter and suggested, "Ask Gabrielle. I think she'd like that since her legs are healed now."
The Conqueror had considered this already so she murmured, "Perhaps." She leaned back into her chair.
Cyrene knew she planted the seed so she wouldn't press the topic. She stole a drink of the sweet wine she'd been poured earlier.
Gabrielle laughed then kept talking, her hands waving around and her eyes bright. She finished her tale with a punch line and the table erupted into laughs, which made her smile happily.
The Conqueror had been listening too and she grinned at the bard's talent that she secretively admired. She breathed deeply then her husky voice called, "Gabrielle?"
The bard's laugher was already into chuckles then they stopped. Gabrielle smiled at her friend and centered her attention on the ruler.
The Conqueror observed that the bard's cheeks were flushed red from the wine tonight. She quickly theorized that the bard would most likely grow silly and relaxed from the wine.
Gabrielle cleared her throat then respectively asked, "Yes, my liege?"
The Conqueror arched an eyebrow at hearing her title drawn from the bard. She suddenly stood up with her chair's legs scraping over the marble floor. The court went silent and the Conqueror became the focal point.
Gabrielle's stomach knotted and she briefly feared she'd done something wrong however when the Conqueror held out her hand her stomach unknotted and instead filled with butterflies.
"I would be honored if you began tonight's dancing with me," spoke the ruler's deep voice.
Gabrielle sensed her cheeks burning and her eyes dropped under the piercing blue stare above her. "I'm really, really bad at dancing. I have two left feet facing backwards."
The Conqueror leaned over and her whispered words were only heard by the bard. "I promise if you dance with me that you'll only enjoy it." She straightened up with her hand still poised in the air.
Gabrielle slowly lifted up her hand and slipped hers into the ruler's much larger hand. She then climbed to her feet while the Conqueror pulled her chair back for her.
Janice nudged her lover and teasingly whispered, "Bingo."
"Hush," warned the southerner although she started to wonder if her lover wasn't a hopeless romantic secretly.
When Gabrielle stepped around her chair, her beautiful solid emerald dress made of silk flowed down to her ankles. The dress hugged her curves and emphasized her breasts with a slight v-cut then it finished off with a straps that covered her shoulders.
"Time to dance, bard," hooted Solari, who gave a wave of good luck.
Gabrielle was walking past the table with the Conqueror and announcing, "They wouldn't let me dance at the crop festival because I brought a bad harvest." Her joked earned her a round of laughs at the table but once Gabrielle was away from the group, her stomach nervously tightened.
The Conqueror guided her dancing partner to the dance floor then she signaled the musicians to begin the tune. She then focused on her dance partner, who cautiously neared her. "Slip your arms around my waist," she quietly instructed.
Gabrielle did so but murmured, "What about your wound?"
"I'll be fine," promised the ruler. She encircled the bard while whispering, "Do you recall the syrto pyleas dance?"
The bard chuckled and answered, "How couldn't I? It's classic to our providence." She saw that hidden smile on the ruler's face, which warmed her.
The Conqueror heard the lyre begin the classic song to the dance so she led her dance partner. "Feet together," she murmured, "Right foot to the right, left foot to the right behind your right."
Gabrielle carefully listened and followed her partner.
"Right foot to the right, left foot to the right in front of your right," softly reminded the ruler. She then sensed that Gabrielle was picking up the steps as the dance came from her childhood memory. She smiled up at her friend as the dance flowed from her naturally.
The Conqueror mirrored the smile then she dipped her head some. "What's with the 'my liege' tonight?"
Gabrielle broke away from her focus on the dance steps as she let her body naturally move with the ruler. "I thought I'd practice for when I become the state advisor."
"So are you already thinking up proposals for the court?" The Conqueror devilishly grinned.
The bard matched the grin then murmured, "How long do I have 'til the next court?"
"I hold court every new and full moon," answered the ruler.
"I think I can be ready by then," teased the rebel leader. "Thank you again for having Lao Ma heal my legs."
The Conqueror waited a beat before replying as her and Gabrielle's bodies brushed together during the reverse steps. "She spoke to me about it… I didn't force her to do it."
"Yes but I have a feeling you had every intent in seeing her carry it out if she hadn't offered," mentioned the bard.
The Conqueror didn't respond to the probing statement, which was answer enough between them but instead she stated, "Well hopefully it will heal some other wounds."
"A lot of those wounds were healed prior to Lao Ma's gift." Gabrielle recognized the fact that her friend wouldn't dip into the topic so she let it go by softly declaring, "It's so wonderful to move like this again."
The Conqueror completely understood. "Yes, I know." Her body then detected the faster rhythm of the song as it was coming to a close. She and Gabrielle swiftly moved across the dance floor with the beat.
"Gods I can't believe I'm dancing," breathed the stunned bard. She then scanned the intent faces of the masses, which made her blush. "I guess we'll be the talk of the realm huh?" She never considered the fact that very few knew her, the rebel leader, and the Conqueror, ruler of the realm, were now friends and allies. "Wait 'til the next court," she joked.
The Conqueror realized that the wine also promoted the bard's chatty side if that was possible.
Gabrielle must have realized this as she went quiet and just enjoyed the last steps of the classic dance from her and the Conqueror's providence. She then was dazzled by the Conqueror's conclusion of the dance as she was spun away and the Conqueror's hand grazed down her bare arm and linked their hands.
Gabrielle's expression was so soft and she glowed as the Conqueror pulled their bodies back together then the music went silent. She remained staring up into a warm, sapphire gaze.
"Thank you for the dance, Gabrielle," whispered the ruler.
The rebel flushed for the second time and softly replied, "Thank you too, Xena… it was wonderful."
The Conqueror broke away but still held the rebel's small hand into hers. "Let us finish the night in song and dance," she announced to the masses. When her voice died the masses quickly filled the silence with clamor and moving about to get on the dance floor. She ordered the musicians to begin rather upbeat music to commence the night's entertainment.
Gabrielle released her friend's hand as her group of family and friends joined her and the Conqueror. She was lit up by her smiles and her laughter occasionally filled the court. The Conqueror joined Lao Ma and conversed with her for some time while promising a nice supply of feta cheese to accompany her back to Chin.
Solari, who was the socialite above all, called for everybody to gather in a circle. She announced the large group that they were going to learn a traditional Amazon dance. She instructed her group to link together by slipping arms over shoulders until the circle was locked.
Ephiny laughed as she watched her friend demo the steps.
Solari smirked and ordered, "Your turn, Eph."
Ephiny lifted her chin proudly and mimicked Solari's steps then called, "Janny, come on."
"Shit," grumbled the archeologist, who'd been forced into this and agreed with Gabrielle about dancing skills or lack there of.
Melinda detected her lover's uneasiness and she already had the steps down. She murmured the steps to her lover, who easily displayed them thanks to her.
"All together now!" Solari led the circle's movement and the dancing circle moved across the floor without hitting other dancers.
The Conqueror tilted her head and watched the dancing circle of friends. She shook her head as she'd never seen this done in her realm. Typically everybody danced in pairs but leave it to the Amazons to form a collective dance in her court.
Lao Ma leaned closer to her counterpart. "The realm will now fair well, Xena."
The Conqueror slipped her hands into the large sleeves of her robed dress.
"The changes in you will reflect in the realm," further added the Chin ruler. She peered up at the silent ruler. "Perhaps this will bind the realm and Chin closer."
The Conqueror met Lao Ma's view with a serious expression. She knew it was a silent offer from her alley. "I believe it will bring the House of Lao and the realm closer." She returned her attention to the dance floor. "What will you do when Lao dies?"
"He is aging," quietly relented the Chin ruler.
"A woman cannot rule in the Kingdom of Chin without their husband," whispered the Conqueror.
"Yes," solemnly agreed Lao Ma.
The Conqueror lowered her head but didn't look at her counterpart. "We will devise a plan for you to remain the ruler of Chin."
Lao Ma studied the ruler's profile and she saw no thirst for power but merely a ruler wanting another ruler to stay in power for the good of the people. "Perhaps yet tens of thousands of bones will become ashes when one ruler achieves his or her fame."
The Conqueror understood her former mentor's proverb. "There's more than one way to win a war," she softly reminded, "and without blood. The Kingdom of Chin will follow the House that is most just once they look beyond the source of that wisdom."
Lao Ma was silent as she considered her alley's words. She quickly realized that the Conqueror had grown since the moons back when they first met. "Indigo is derived from blue but is more pleasing than blue; ice is formed out of water but is colder than water."
The Conqueror took a beat to translate the proverb that spoke that a student can surpass their mentor. She was inwardly surprised by Lao Ma's indirect praises of her yet she didn't show it except within her eyes. "Thank you, Ma."
The Chin ruler merely bowed her head in response yet her face was soft and eloquent.
The Conqueror had a thin smile then she glimpsed over the dancing masses. Something or rather somebody caught her attention so she whispered, "Please excuse me, Ma."
Lao Ma nodded then watched her counterpart glide off. She turned her head to the left and ran her fingers through Hu's fur.
The Conqueror came over to the steps to the main entrance doors of the court. She took seat beside the young girl, who barely acknowledged her. She found this quite amusing seeing as she could capture the entire masses' attention by merely lifting a finger or eyebrow. "You're not joining the dancing?"
Melpomene kept staring at the dancers. "I don't know how to," she quietly admitted. "My sister was going to teach me but…."
The ruler sighed because she understood the exception. She leaned over and whispered, "I am sorry about your sister, Melpomene." When Melpomene's confused eyes were transfixed on her, she gently added, "I can never return her to you but I hope to give you something back in life."
Melpomene turned her head away. "Grandmother loves you even though you've done so many evil things."
The Conqueror's anger didn't react like most would expect instead her emotions surfaced. "Yes, I have and I'm lucky to have my mother."
"She and Auntie Gabby say you're changing… that you're like your old self."
The Conqueror tilted her head at hearing this news. "Well I don't completely agree." She saw how Melpomene now leaned in as if waiting for some secret, which made the Conqueror sadly smile. "I'm still the Conqueror but you know what's different than before?"
Melpomene only shook her head while holding her breath for the truth.
"I'm also Xena too," answered the Conqueror.
"What's the difference? I thought that was your name?"
"It is," confirmed the ruler, "but I forgot what it was like to be Xena… to be myself."
"How could you forget?" argued the thoughtful child.
Yes, the Conqueror wondered, how could I forget? She inwardly discovered the answer and whispered, "I forgot because I let myself become consumed by anger and hatred."
"Because your brother died," theorized the child.
The Conqueror was surprised Melpomene knew her history but then again there was Gabrielle and her stories. "Yes."
Melpomene shook her head then challenged, "But wouldn't your brother be upset that you did that? I know my sister would be if I reacted that way."
The Conqueror slowly dipped her head in acknowledgement of the question and statement. "Yes, now I'm going to try and fix that." She rested her arms on her propped up knees then asked, "Do you think you can help me, Melpomene?"
Melpomene's eyes grew wide at the request for help from the great and powerful ruler. "Like Auntie Gabby and grandmother are helping?"
"Yes," answered the ruler.
"Auntie Gabby says you're family." Melpomene tilted her head in consideration and her thoughts carefully worked it out. "That means you're family to me and family helps each other."
"Yes they do," huskily agreed the ruler.
Melpomene revealed a smile and her eyes harbored no malice for the ruler. "Then I want to help too, Conqueror."
The ruler's lips curled into a warm smile. "And family calls me Xena… not Conqueror."
Melpomene's small smile grew brighter at this declaration. "You can call me Mel if you want," she shyly offered as her smile went coy.
"Alright, Mel." The ruler then rose up with her robe cascading down and flashing gold. She came down the steps and held out her hand, palm up. "Let me teach you a dance, Mel."
Melpomene was shy but she took the strong hand after a beat of hesitation. She was lifted onto her feet and she hurried down the steps then was guided to a clear spot on the dance floor.
The Conqueror positioned herself beside the child. "Have you heard of the tsamiko dance?"
Melpomen became enthralled and hastily gushed, "Yes, I saw it performed in my village once."
"Do you know who created the tsamiko dance?" At the girl's frantic head shake, the Conqueror explained, "It's a warrior dance that they perform before battle."
"Are you going to do the real tsamiko? The leader has to do the back flips," recalled the girl.
"Is there any other ways to do the tsamiko?" queried the grinning ruler.
Melpomene grew even more excited at this prospect. "What are the steps?"
"They're very simple," instructed the ruler. "You step to your right eight times first." She lifted her robe to show her feet while moving.
Melpomene mimicked the dance steps then stopped and watched the next set the ruler performed. She followed them too.
"Those are the steps," proclaimed the ruler.
"That's easy!" Melpomene and the Conqueror continued the steps until the dance fit the beat of the music. She had her head down watching her feet move in sync with the Conqueror's. When she lifted her head she realized a circle of dancers formed around her and the Conqueror and they started to clap with the beat. "What about the flips?" excitedly urged the child.
The Conqueror quietly chuckled at the girl's enthusiasm. "Any… heartbeat." She took the last two back steps then gave her incredibly warcry and leapt into the air, tucked, flipped, and opened as she hit the floor with her feet and continued the dance.
The crowd cheered wildly at the Conqueror's rare display. Then several people from the crowd jumped into the circle's center and dance beside the Conqueror and Melpomene. The Conqueror kept her position as leader of the dance.
"What's that dance?" inquired Melinda to her lover.
The archeologist grinned and answered, "It's an ancient warrior dance called the tsamiko. I've seen it done before in Athens but never this traditional with the back flips." She peered up at the linguist. "They perform the dance before battles… sorta a ceremonial thing for good luck in battle."
Melinda filed that away for later consideration and reference. She paused in her clapping and quietly asked, "Ya reckon they'd like to learn the Carolina Shag?"
Janice couldn't help but laugh at the concept of Ancient Greeks learning a swing dance traditional to the Carolinas. "I'll be your partner but you'll have to be patient," she agreed.
"I've already been using plenty of that with ya."
Before the archeologist could banter back the Conqueror's warcry resounded and she watched the amazing skills of the Conqueror.
The Conqueror landed and went still as the song ended. She took Melpomene's hand and bowed her head.
Melpomene followed suit and saw the other dancers repeated the bow. She grinned when everybody cheered.
Melinda dragged her lover into the circle and announced, "Since Janice and I will be leaving soon we wanted to give y'all something to remember us by. Janice and I would like to show y'all a dance from our time period. It is native to where I am from."
"Hey, I didn't pick this dance," announced Janice Covington with her hands up in defense but a grin on her face.
The crowd laughed.
"Don't fall on your butt, Janny," teased Ephiny.
The Conqueror tiled her head and asked, "What is the dance?"
"It's called the Carolina Shag," answered Melinda Pappas, who eased a grin into her expression, "And it's uh style of dance we call swing." She saw everybody was curious and backed away to make room.
The Conqueror took a spot beside the rebel and her mother. She signaled the musicians to begin playing.
"This is a partner dance," explained the southerner, who faced her lover.
Janice's hands grew slightly wet from nervousness, her body already warm. She took off her hat and tossed it at Ephiny.
Ephiny snatched it in mid air and put it on for the fun of it. She then was smacked in the face by the leather jacket.
Janice met her partner halfway then quietly mentioned, "This won't be easy with this music."
"It ain't jazz," agreed the linguist, "but it'll do. Jus' follow my body."
The archeologist smirked and teased, "That's easy."
The translator held out her right hand. "I'll start it." When Janice took it, she slowly moved her feet on the floor that would have been the man's moves. She pointed at Janice with her freehand.
The archeologist mirrored the moves slowly; right back, left, right forward, slide to the left and continue. She stopped then grinned at her partner.
Melinda repeated the steps faster and then she stepped back twice for some space and quickly spun in place with her right leg up then ascending to the floor as she twirled. She danced back up to her partner and took her hand again before spinning her with their locked hands overhead.
Janice laughed and repeated the steps before her lover backed up but kept their hands together. She mirrored her lover's steps for several beats then Melinda pulled their bodies together and spun them in a circle.
The masses hooted at the couple demonstrating the shag dance.
"Come on, Ephiny." Solari grabbed her friend's hand and hauled her onto the dance floor. Solari took the man's assumed role as she stood beside Melinda and copied her.
Ephiny watched Janice while tilting the fedora back on her head. She mimicked the archeologist's booted feet.
Melpomene happened to be standing by Callisto, who'd remain still and quiet most of the evening. "I bet you can do that dance."
Callisto's brown eyes lit up at the child that reminded her of her lost little sister. She slowly grinned.
Melpomene chuckled and grabbed the tall woman's wrist then guided her to the floor.
Callisto copied Melinda and Solari's move then she paused to see Melpomene take the woman's mirroring moves. She laughed at how ridiculous she felt yet as she kept going she started to relax and enjoy it.
Janice met her partner halfway and as they held hands and danced, she whispered, "Nice job, Mel."
The translator winked and molded their bodies for a long spun but she took her lover's lips in a quick kiss. Melinda's plan to teach the Ancient Greeks a wild, new form of dance paid off as the masses all tried the dance.
The night's entertainment continued into the late night and much later than a feast would normal go in the realm. However the feast and court broke apart when it became too late. The rich masses left the fortress while the Conqueror and her guests retired to their respective chambers. When Helios was kissing the eastern horizon the fortress was buzzing with life again and the Amazons were first up as they knew they needed to return to the Nation. Not only was the queen waiting on them but so was Yakut and the answer to the riddle for entrance to Eternity. The Amazons said goodbye to everybody and made sure to thank the Conqueror for her hospitality. Much to Ephiny's surprise the Conqueror informed her to tell Queen Cyane to send a representative in the near future for an alliance.
Solari finished hugging Janice and was mounting her horse near the open gates.
Ephiny stepped up to her friend and her expression dimmed. "You won't ever come back here, will you?"
The archeologist sighed then tipped her hat back for a better view. "No, it's not safe for Mel and me to be here to begin with."
The Amazon nodded her understanding yet she didn't like it. "I'll miss you, Janice Covington," she quietly admitted.
Janice pulled her friend into a long embrace while whispering, "I'll miss you too, Ephiny." When she withdrew from the hug she was rather choked up and trying not to get anymore upset. "Thank you for everything."
Ephiny touched her friend's cheek and gently teased, "It was my pleasure, Janny. Take care and don't forget me." She moved away before it grew anymore emotional for her. She climbed onto her horse. "I hope to see you in the Nation soon, Gabrielle."
The bard grinned. "You can count on it."
Ephiny ordered her comrades out of the gates and she tapped her mare's sides. She saw that Callisto had the reins for the other mare that the Conqueror had burrowed. She turned in her saddle and waved at Janice, Melinda, Gabrielle, and Melpomene.
Janice waved back then when her hand fell to her side; she dropped her head and pushed her fedora forward to hide her face. She then felt strong hands massaged her shoulders to ease her emotions.
Melpomene grabbed Janice's hand and stated, "Family is forever, Janice… don't forget."
The archeologist sadly smiled at the child's words then knelt down and picked up the girl. "You're right about that, Mel."
Gabrielle swallowed against her own emotions then she announced, "I think its time for you and Melinda to get home."
Melpomene rested her head on Janice's shoulder and closed her eyes at the words she didn't want to hear. She clung tightly to Janice's opposite shoulder.
"The Conqueror is waiting in her office with the scepter." Gabrielle started walking with her friends. As she climbed through the fortress's levels her happiness from last night descended. She had to remind herself that Janice and Melinda had made it possible for her and Cyrene to achieve the impossible. Melinda and Janice had gifted her and Cyrene with the changes in the Conqueror; with the return of Xena.
The Conqueror rose up to her feet from the sofa when the group entered her office. She felt her mother stand up behind her.
"Are you two ready?" questioned Cyrene, who stepped around her daughter.
The Conqueror saw Melinda's nod so she went to her desk where her scepter leaned against her desk. She picked it up and strolled over to the group.
Melinda and Janice went through the rhythms of saying goodbye to everybody but it felt surreal to the couple. Janice still held Melpomene in her left arm. She felt warm tears now trickling down her neck so she turned her head and kissed the child's head. She then knelt down and set Melpomene on her feet but she stayed kneeling and sadly smiling.
"Do you really have to go?"
The archeologist frowned and brushed the girl's hair out of her face. "I have to go home." She wiped the tears from the child's cheek.
Melpomene choked out, "This is home now too."
Janice bitter sweetly smiled because the child's words rang true. "It is, Mel but Melinda and me have to go back to our time. There are people there that miss us too."
Melpomene dropped her head and stretched out her hands to play with Janice's hands and fingers. "Will you forget about me?"
Janice's heart broke and her eyes stung. "No, never… will you forget me?"
Melpomene quickly shook her head then she threw herself into Janice's body.
Janice wrapped the child up into her arms and held tightly.
Melinda removed her glasses from her face when her tears started to spill. She wiped them away then touched her lover's shoulder in comfort.
"I love ya, Mel," promised the archeologist.
Melpomene tightened her arms and whispered, "I love you too, Janice."
Janice slowly withdrew but as she stood up, her hand laced through Melpomene's. She and Melinda gave a round of hugs to Gabrielle and Cyrene then they paused at the standoffish Conqueror.
The Conqueror held the scepter in her left hand but she extended her hand to Melinda first. "Thank you, Melinda."
Melinda Pappas took the matching hand and reminded, "I reckon ya found what ya've been missing… don't lose it again."
The Conqueror thoroughly agreed with a nod. "I pray my descendant in your time is at least half of who you are." She then shifted to the uncomfortable archeologist and held out her hand again.
Janice bit her lower lip as she read the Conqueror's face. She knew that the Conqueror was so different compared to Melinda yet when she studied those blue crystals above her she saw the tenderness of her lover deep down. She slowly extended her hand and collapsed the large hand in a strong shake.
The Conqueror had no words yet she and Janice let understanding pass between them. She released the archeologist's hand then held out the scepter to Melinda Pappas. "Its all yours."
The translator accepted the scepter as her eyes reflected the glowing green stone. She and Janice with Melpomene stepped away from everybody. She let the scepter's base touch the floor so that it was level with Janice's chest.
The archeologist knelt down one last time, hugged Melpomene, and whispered a promise before releasing her completely.
Melpomene separated from the woman she considered her sister. She went over to her aunt, who took her hand to comfort her.
Janice stepped up to scepter that was between her and Melinda. Her right hand touched the scepter's shaft, just above Melinda's left hand.
Melinda sadly smiled at her lover. "Ready?"
"I'm ready," agreed the archeologist.
Melinda lifted her right hand with her palm facing down. She watched as Janice lifted her left hand and laced their fingers together. She lowered their hands close to the brightly humming stone.
"Mel," came the archeologist's teasing voice, "click your heels and say three times 'there's no place like home.'"
Melinda quietly chuckled as the joke helped lightened the mood. She lowered their hands down the remaining quarter inch while she did think there was no place like home.
Instantly the Cronos Stone flared a bright green in the room and took the strangers away. It traveled through space and time then snapped brightly green again then calmed again.
Janice lifted their hands away from the Cronos Stone and she gasped for air. "Wow."
"Wow is right," murmured the aching southerner. She then glanced about their location.
The archeologist mimicked her lover's scan and she easily realized that they were in a museum's backroom where artifacts were stored. Then the table to her left caught her eye as she spotted the same stone like that on the scepter.
"Janice," spoke the linguist, "I reckon we outta let go of the scepter."
The archeologist nodded then together she and Melinda lowered the scepter to the floor. She let go first then Melinda relinquished her hold on the scepter last. She and Melinda watched in amazement at the scepter's vanishing act. Janice's head though snapped up when she heard voices on the other side of the door of the room. She narrowed her eyes when the voices became clearer and silhouettes formed on the opposite side if the door's small smoky window.
There came a knock on the door then a man opening it up while saying, "Miss Pappas, I'm sorry but there's…." He was caught off guard when he spotted the small woman beside the southern belle. "I…uh…." He touched his bald head and stared confusingly at the archeologist.
Melinda Pappas cleared her throat then introduced, "Doctor Timothy, I'd like you to meet Doctor Janice Covington."
The archeologist instantly processed the man's name; he was the curator of the Archeological Museum of Corinth so now she knew where she was. "Great to finally meet you, Doctor Timothy."
Doctor Timothy remained in the half open doorway with his perplexed expression. "You as well, Doctor Covington… I didn't hear you come in."
"Sorry about that," properly apologized the southerner, "I let Doctor Covington in only a moment ago."
Doctor Timothy faintly nodded as he relaxed. "Well… actually this works out perfect." He opened the door more, which allowed the woman behind him to take shape. "There's somebody here looking for Doctor Covington."
Janice's eyes slotted because it was never good news when somebody was on the hunt for her.
Melinda stepped closer to her lover then she stiffened when the unknown woman entered the storage room.
Doctor Timothy was puzzled again as he realized he hadn't caught this woman's name.
The woman must have noticed, which made her roll her brown eyes. She stepped up to the archeologist with her hand coming out and she introduced, "I am Doctor Erin Alexander," she formally introduced.
Janice stared dumbfounded at the curly dirty-blond woman that was about her age. She shoved aside her astonishment before she appeared anymore silly looking. She quickly took the woman's hand and stated, "Doctor Janice Covington." She then turned on her heels some and held her hand out to Melinda. "This is my partner, Melinda Pappas."
Melinda stepped around the table to meet this familiar woman. "It’s uh pleasure, Doctor Alexander." She held out her hand.
Erin smiled warmly at the southern accent. "Wait… are you related to Doctor Mel Pappas?" She asked after the hand shake.
"Yes." Melinda pushed her glassed up onto her face then properly informed, "Mel Pappas was my father."
"I heard rumor that you were here in Greece," spoke Doctor Alexander. "I just didn't realize you and Doctor Covington were working together."
Janice rested her hands on her hips. "It only happened recently."
"Is there something we can help you with, Doctor Alexander?" probed the linguist.
Erin worked past her excitement at having found the archeologist and linguist together. "Yes, I believe so." She revealed a pleased smile and informed, "I am a professor at the University of Pennsylvania but I've taken a sabbatical." She brushed back her curly locks. "I'm rather interested in doing some research on the mythical Amazons." She glanced between the silent women then further added, "I have reason to believe they really existed and I was hoping I could get some help with my research. I'm afraid I do not have much archeological experience." She steadied herself as she carefully asked, "Do you think you could help?"
Janice Covington shifted her weight onto her right foot as she peered up at her lover.
The translator peered down while saying to her partner, "Do we have time to fit this into our schedule?" She already knew the answer to Erin's question but she wasn't going to voice it when it had to be Janice.
"I also believe that the Amazons are somehow linked to Xena," suggested Doctor Alexander. "I've been following your work, Doctor Covington… call me a fan."
Janice slightly grinned as she returned her attention to Doctor Erin Alexander, who was truly Ephiny's descendant. "I believe we can help, Doctor Alexander."
"Momma?" called a small, puzzled girl's voice.
Doctor Erin Alexander spun around and saw her daughter wandering into the room through the open door. "Sweetie, I told you to wait in the car for momma." She hastily came over and took her child's hand then brought her over to the women. "I'm sorry." She indicted her child while saying, "This is my daughter… Melissa." She bent over and said, "Can you say hello to Doctor Covington and Miss Pappas?"
Melissa blinked and studied the archeologist's softening expression and for some strange reason, Melissa smiled at the archeologist. She instantly liked the archeologist then when she looked at the linguist she too seemed so familiar.
Janice Covington melted at seeing the descendant of Little Melpomene and she felt so happy. She knelt down and smiled at the child. "Hello, Melissa. How are you?"
"I'm good, Doctor Covington," properly answered the child.
The archeologist grinned at Melissa's formality obviously taught to her by her mother. "You can call me Janice if you'd like." She then twisted and pointed at the tall translator. "This is Miss Melinda Pappas but I'm sure she won't mind you calling her Melinda."
Melissa peered up at the tall southerner for that confirmation.
Melinda smiled while kneeling down too. "Hi, Melissa… you can call me Melinda."
Melissa beamed at her new friends and announced, "I like being called Mel… my friends call me that." She then tilted her head and asked, "Are you going to help my momma find the Amazons?"
Janice Covington adjusted her fedora then peered up at the carefully listening Doctor Alexander. She smiled warmly back at the girl. "You bet we are." She and her partner stood up simultaneously and she came to Doctor Alexander's left side with her arm going around the professor's shoulders. "You don't mind Er do you?"
Doctor Alexander opened her mouth for a protest as the archeologist turned her and her daughter around. Before she could get her protest out the archeologist cut her off.
"Great. I like it too." Janice guided the curly blond out of the backroom to the door. "So do you know much real history on the Amazons, Er?"
Doctor Alexander was having an odd feeling of deja-vu yet she tried to keep up. When she opened her mouth to respond the archeologist about how she knew the Amazonian myths she was cut short again.
"You see the Amazon philosophy," started Janice, "was that it was a man's world at the time and not because it should be but because women let it be. So the Amazon world is based on…." Janice continued her rant right out of the storage room and into the museum.
Melinda Pappas was shaking her head and was highly amused. She approached Doctor Timothy with a polite smile. "Thank you, Doctor Timothy for your help."
The curator smiled and held out his hand for a shake. "Did you find the answers you were looking for, Miss Pappas?"
"I reckon so," replied the southerner.
Doctor Timothy led the translator out of the storage room then wished her goodbye and safe travels.
Melinda Pappas met up her lover, the professor, and Melissa just outside in the gravel parking lot. She stood next to the trunk of a beautiful black sedan with chrome trim; it was most likely a 1937 Pontiac De Luxe.
"If neither of you have plans I would be a pleasure to have you come to my hotel room," politely offered Erin. "I understand though if you do not have time."
Janice Covington wanted to reply right away but she couldn't speak for her lover. She instead answered, "If I could have a minute with Melinda I'd appreciate that."
"Of course," agreed Erin. She then told Melissa, "Get in the car, sweetie." She released her daughter's hand, who went around to the passenger side. Erin then climbed into the car to give the archeologist and linguist some sense of privacy.
Janice turned to her lover and stated, "Mel, can you believe this?" She then corrected herself when Melinda gave her a funny look. "Okay, don't answer that but… I mean if Ephiny's descendant is here… then that means the Amazons are real too."
"We don't know if Ephiny was an Amazon in our world," reminded the southerner.
The archeologist grinned and joked, "I'm willing to bet my cigars that her ancestor was also an Amazon."
Melinda chuckled and replied, "Keep ya cigars, Janice."
"Mel…." Janice stepped closer to her lover and wanted desperately to take the southerner's hands into hers but she couldn't in the public eye. "You know what this could mean if the Amazons were real? What if they are connected to Xena and Gabrielle somehow?"
"Oh my, the havoc it could cause on the social standards today," joked the prim southerner.
Janice snickered then went serious. "Melinda, I understand if you don't want to do this with me. I mean home is in the Carolinas for you. I'm not exactly the safest person to associate with these days… being a Covington and all. Then there's always the problem with-" She was silence by Melinda's fingertips over her lips.
"Ya just need to learn when to quit while you're ahead, Janice." Melinda removed her touch from the soft lips that she loved to kiss. "I told ya we're in this together. Where ya go, I go."
Janice wanted so badly to wrap the amazing woman into her arms and show her happiness and appreciation for this beautiful southerner. She revealed a wide smile and her eyes lit up at the prospect of the adventure ahead of them. "What about Jack?"
"I reckon he's still in the hotel I left him in. We outta get the Xena Scrolls before going."
Janice nodded her agreement then turned and tapped on the driver's window.
Erin Alexander hastily cranked the window down then had a hopefully expression on her face.
"You got room in this De Luxe for an archeologist and linguist?"
Erin's expression broke into a thrilled expression. "Hop in, Doctor Covington and Miss Pappas."
The archeologist faced the car, opened the back door and grinned up at her lover. "You ready for this, sweetheart?"
Melinda smirked then answered, "Like I was made for it, Janny." She then shoved her lover into the car by her hips. She listened to Janice's excited laugh echo back to her.
Melissa twisted in her seat and peered over the front bench seat. "Buckle up 'cause my momma is a wild driver."
"Hush, Mel," ordered the professor.
Melinda bit her lower lip from laughing and kept busy by buckling up.
Janice however couldn't resist a poke. "Do you need me to drive then, Doctor Alexander?"
The professor's response was reversing the car in the parking lot then saying, "I prefer to return this car in one piece, Doctor Covington."
Melinda smirked but her hand slid across the bench seat and slipped into the archeologist's small hand.
Janice laced their hands together then flashed a tender smile at her lover. That's when Janice truly believed that family was forever, even through time and across realities.
To be continued...
Return to the Academy